The Wolf of Wall Street: Celebration of Addiction & Excess
Martin Scorcese’s latest vehicle, The Wolf Of Wall Street, has become the most polarizing film of 2013. Shot in classic Scorsese style, with quick pans, freeze frames, and a running 1st person narrative, Wolf is based on the memoirs of self-proclaimed Wolf Of Wall Street Jordan Belfort and the depravity encapsulated in Belfort’s brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont. Critics are at odds over whether Scorsese’s film is a glorification of the licentious behavior of Belfort, or an exposition of the perils of greed and excess in the financial world.
What’s It About?
Regardless of which side you fall on, lets explore what this film is at its core. Wolf is a dark comedy, a hilarious sex filled, drug addled comedy (we get an extensive education on he history and effects of Quaaludes) with Oscar worthy performances by its lead actor Leonardo Dicaprio and supporting actor Jonah Hill.
Beneath the fast paced hijinks lies more of a cautionary tale about addiction. Addiction to sex, drugs, greed and, most importantly, one’s self. Belfort is a textbook sociopath, the exact type that Scorsese excels at humanizing with characters like Tommy Devito (Goodfellas), Nicky Santoro (Casino), and Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver).
With Belfort, there is overarching skepticism. The redeeming qualities that draw us to him, like Nicky Santoro’s relationship with his son in Casino, or the love Tommy Devito has for his naive mother in Goodfellas, are not present with Belfort. The only qualities that make us root for Belfort are the sinister charm and douchebag charisma that Dicaprio brilliantly brings to the screen.
Not About Wall Street?
Although we get the sense that Belfort was always a wolf on the hunt for the almighty dollar; Wolf briefly explores the genesis of Belfort’s ideology in the world of finance. L.F. Rothchild senior broker Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) schools a relatively green Belfort on the keys to success over a lunch of cocaine and martinis. A steady diet of cocaine, hookers, masturbation keeps one afloat in this world, all while doing the most important task, which is transferring money from your clients pockets into your own. Belfort learns that the brokerage world is “fugazi”, and making money for your clients is not the end game. He then lives by the old adage made famous by renowned confidence artist Canada Bill Jones and comedian W.C. Fields that “It’s immoral to let a sucker keep his money.
Belfort branches out on his own, partnering with Donnie Azoff to form Stratton Oakmont brokerage firm; comprised of lowlife hustlers, drug peddlers and scam artists. After mastering Belfort’s script, he and his cohorts expand and end up bilking investors out of roughly $200 million dollars.
The rest of Wolf plays like a frat boy bacchanal fueled by egoistic hedonism, until the Feds come knocking and the walls start closing in. At this point in the film Belfort becomes more of a tragic anti-hero. He stands on his horse ranch being advised by his lawyer Manny Riskin (Jon Favreau) that he can avoid jail if he simply pays a fine to the SEC and leaves the business. He could leave with his millions, his kids and beautiful wife. (A woman so hot that when Donnie Azoff meets her he says, “she’s so hot I’d let her give me AIDS”)
The Honest Truth
We ultimately learn that Jordan Belfort is a sick man, a megalomaniac unable to let go of his pre trade pep talks and the allure of having cult-like followers hanging on his every word. Instead he decides to be fresh as hell if the Feds watchin’.
When Belfort is faced with the consequences of his actions, we get a glimpse into the true nature of crime and punishment in America. In the words of Meek Mill, “there’s levels to this shit.” The punishment for blue-collar crime is harsh and swift, while white-collar criminals rarely if ever receive comeuppance.
This phenomenon is perfectly illustrated in the Dave Chappelle skit Tron Carter’s Law & Order where in an alternate universe; drug dealer Tron Carter switches places with white-collar criminal Charles Jefferies as far as their respective treatment from the justice system.
Belfort ratted out his co-conspirators and was sentenced to four years in federal prison (22 months served), and $110 million dollars in restitution. Is there a bounty on his head for ratting on his friends? No, they just aren’t friends anymore. Was his cellmate the 400lb Bubba we’ve all heard horror stories about? No, it was Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame. This man has paid pennies on the dollar in restitution, made a million dollar book and film deal, makes $30 thousand a pop for sales training and motivational speeches, and is currently shopping a reality TV show. America has and always will kiss the money.
As far as the moral compass of this film goes, it’s nonexistent. Like the book, Wolf is told from the perspective of Jordan Belfort, and if you’re one of his victims, he doesn’t give a damn about you. There is a scene in the film where he is on speakerphone with a reluctant investor while his followers laugh in the background. As he reels the client in he pantomimes bending him over and sealing the deal with two middle fingers.
The Wolf of Wall Street is what it is, a riotous dark comedy about the exploits of one of our country’s most infamous swindlers. I highly recommend it if raunchy humor is you’re thing, if not, you may want to stay away. Either way, it has something to say to the poor sucker as well as the rich dummy. The wolves are out there, and they’re licking their chops.